COP26 – What’s theology got to do with it?

No doubt Keep The Faith readers will have seen and heard about the activities, reflections, campaigning, and statements coming out of the Glasgow COP26 event. Whether you heard politicians, such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson; scientists, such Sir David Attenborough; royalty, such as HRH Prince Charles, or Christian leadership, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby… all these public figures had grim messages and warnings concerning the effects of a changing climate. When we see record-breaking heatwaves, massive flooding, and widespread forest fires in different parts of the world that have claimed thousands of lives and homes in recent months, we are seeing the effects of climate change. The COP gathering was the most important global climate gathering since COP21 in 2015, which produced the landmark Paris Agreement. All nations – particularly the wealthiest countries, who are the biggest contributors to global warming – need to commit to net-zero by mid-century, meaning the world must achieve carbon neutrality before 2050 and cut dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is a group of scientists whose findings are endorsed by the world’s governments. Their latest report is the first major review of the science of climate change since 2013 and was released ahead of the November COP26 climate summit held in Glasgow. The report’s findings are stark; it evidences human activity is changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways. A previous report found that beyond the 1.5°C thresholds, tipping points triggering and accelerating irreversible changes in earth systems become more likely. The new report provides further evidence of the nearness of melting of polar ice sheets, causing sea-level rises and warning signs of the collapse of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic that regulates rain patterns, especially in India, South America, and West Africa.

Such activities cause us to think it is too late to do anything about it. The answer is, it isn’t too late, but if humanity is to act, we need to do it now. According to the young Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, “the days of blah, blah, blah words” is not what is needed. What is needed is action, cooperation, and complete understanding; we are facing a climate emergency.

I believe in the creation story. I believe God created man and woman; I believe God created animal life, fish life, plant life… In fact, I believe God created all living things. I don’t believe God created life to witness a climate breakdown, so as I think about the climate summit and the works of a Creator God, I am helped by the reflections and thinking of Dr. Ruth Valerio from Tearfund. She writes: “First, the Bible tells us that creation was made through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). That’s a stunning declaration of our planet’s worth. The Son of God loves this beautiful world that exists in Him, and we are called to care for it. But the climate crisis is wreaking havoc, intensifying threats, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, melting glaciers, and biodiversity loss. Scientists are clear this is a human-made problem, driven by the burning of fossil fuels. As God’s image-bearers, we can’t stand by while our common home is being destroyed.” In his COP26 reflection, Professor Tim Gorringe writes: “The creation story begins by telling us that ‘Adam’ the man was taken from the earth (Genesis 2:4b). In other words, humans are part of creation. They do not live in an ‘environment’, but are indissolubly linked with every other part of creation.”

There are other Christian writers and activists today, who offer interpretations of God’s creative power – and the ways humanity participates in that power – and in doing so, have caused harm. Yet still, we are reminded that we are part of creation, and can – indeed we must – listen deeply to the groans of creation. In my own climate reflections, conversation and prayers, I am increasing my own actions and self-examinations about what more I should be doing more of concerning my own actions and messages. One thing I am clear about is I have a responsibility to future generations to do my bit. In her COP26 theology reflection, Frankie Ward reminds us:

Humanity needs to listen out for the wild patience of God, who creates and sustains the universe, despite the human sin that desecrates the natural world. The sound of God’s moral purpose is there not only for humanity, but for the whole of creation of which we are a part.

Written By: Dionne Gravesande

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